GALVESTON, Texas—Four years after Hurricane Ike slammed into the seawall, Galveston has bounced back.
Bars and restaurants shut down by the 2008 storm have drawn especially impressive crowds during the tourist season wrapping up this week, city officials say. The Pleasure Pier has revitalized the long-dormant site of Flagship Hotel, drawing family crowds to an especially colorful and high-profile attraction.
“What? Two years I haven’t been here?” said Denise Kelly as she stepped out of her car on Seawall Boulevard. “And I love what they’ve done.”
If you don’t believe Galveston has recovered from its latest hurricane, one economic indicator might make you a believer. Just take a drive along the seawall during a busy holiday weekend and try to find a parking space.
Cars and trucks slowly cruise in the far right lane as sharp-eyed drivers look for beachgoers packing their cars and preparing to leave. If they’re lucky, they find a place quickly. If they’re not, they spend a long time crawling down the road in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“We waited maybe twenty minutes for parking, because we go round and around to get parking,” said Cuende Giovanna, a tourist visiting from Uruguay. Her husband was so excited about finding a parking place; he stepped out of his car and pumped his fists into the air.
Labor Day weekend traditionally ends Galveston’s summertime rush, but this year it signifies the end of another tradition. And this will probably be the last busy holiday weekend of free parking on the seawall.
City officials are still hashing out the details, but it appears that Galveston is finally on the brink of charging for parking on the island’s most famous and scenic stretch of roadway.
Paying for parking on the seawall has been a contentious issue on the island. Voters approved the idea in a hotly contested May 2011 referendum, but the issue has dragged on with questions about whether the city should have meters on the seawall and how much the proposal will generate.
City officials hope to draw up to $700,000 a year for seawall improvements. But implementing the system won’t be cheap, costing an estimated $500,000.
Galveston City council voted last month to consider charging a dollar an hour for up to eight hours of parking.
Even though Galveston plans to allow long term parking, experts in the field have always touted an interesting advantage of charging for street parking: It tends to create more turnovers in parking spaces. In other words, drivers don’t park so long, freeing up spaces for other vehicles.
Drivers looking for parking spaces along the seawall probably wouldn’t mind that at all. After all, anybody who has cruised Seawall Boulevard scanning the curb for scarce parking spaces on a holiday weekend knows it can get frustrating.
“Yeah, for sure,” says Nathan Miles, a tourist from Houston who had just parked an SUV loaded with family and visitors. “When you got kids in the back screaming, everybody telling you how to park, that’s the way it goes.”